"You earn your money when things aren't quite going your way," Curt Onalfo says. "That's the hardest time to coach."
For the LA Galaxy boss, just seven games into the season, the paychecks have been well-deserved: the long-serving MLS vanguard sits buried at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, just six points tallied from two wins against five losses – three, shockingly, at home.
But this is merely the beginning of a long season (ask Seattle fans about being told all is lost), and if – as per MLS usual – the Galaxy finish the year competing in the playoffs, it will mark only the beginning turn in a much longer transition to sustained success.
With the departure of Bruce Arena, the man who not only brought stability, but staggering success to LA, there was an MLS Cup-sized hole to fill. Where "Da Bruce" produced three MLS Cups, four appearances in the final, two Supporters' Shields and countless Brooklyn-inflected aphorisms, the next coach would need to be confident enough to step out of the shadow, to manage top-tier talent and merge it with a potential-laden academy pipeline, all while establishing an identity for the moment and for the future.
Klein and freshly-promoted General Manager Peter Vagenas decided he was already on staff.
So did Arena, who recommended then-LA Galaxy II head coach Onalfo succeed him.
"We celebrate Bruce, and everything that he did," says Galaxy President Chris Klein. "He's still a big piece of our history and we won't forget that. But having people like Pete, and Curt and Jovan that had been with us for a number of years, I think the familiarity was still there and they hit the ground running and haven't looked back since.
"Curt's been exactly what we thought he was going to be, and Pete and him have done a great job of building that, and not only building this roster but having an identity of the type of team that this is going to be and it's one that is aggressive in how it plays and goes out to win and does it in a certain way and the quality of our players are starting to show. And I think with that, Curt will be able to execute a lot of the things that he set out to do."
Having served a pair of previous MLS head coaching stints, but more recently six years in various capacities with the Galaxy, Onalfo takes the experiences from his time in Kansas City (2007-09) and D.C. (2010) without committing current headspace to reliving them.
Instead focused on the coaching staple of "improving every day" – yes, for himself and for the team – Onalfo views this as building upon the foundation he, Vagenas and Technical Director Jovan Kirovski have collectively laid under Klein and Arena's guidance.
Having worked mainly on the developmental side for three seasons, the transition to the first team involves pivoting toward a more "cutthroat" mindset, one in which young players must perform to play. With the veterans, Onalfo opened the conversation early with centerpiece Giovani dos Santos, veterans like Jelle Van Damme and Gyasi Zardes, as well as new additions Romain Alessandrini and Jermaine Jones, confident in his belief that they're serving as an extension of the staff and his principles.
"I'm where I belong," Onalfo says, matter-of-factly. "I feel good. I felt good the day I was offered the job and I felt confident I would get the job; I felt like I deserved it.
"It's a position I feel very comfortable with and I'm just going to continue to grow in the role and our group's going to continue to roll, and it's a privilege. It feels good to be the coach of this team and it's going to feel even better when we're in a better situation in terms of wins and losses."
That belief, that singular surety of purpose is what brought Onalfo to this position. And it will be what drives him on this most Sisyphean of MLS tasks, in which victory only raises expectations, and any loss is cause for the sharpest of social media shots.
That's the job Onalfo accepted. He's on the path to shaping the role, but only time will tell which way we remember the run.